NONG KHAI (across the Mekong River from Vientiane in Laos) stretches along the Mekong river. The 1,190-meter Friendship Bridge, located here, opened in 1994, connects Thailand and Laos. The history of modern Nong Khai dates back over 200 years. Initially however, this riverside area was spotted with small towns and traces of ancient places have been found in temples along the Mekong River. During the reign of King Rama III of the Rattanakosin era, Chao Anuwong, the ruler of Vientiane, staged a rebellion. King Rama III appointed Chao Phraya Ratchathewi to lead an army to attack Vientiane. The army won with the support of forces led by Thao Suwothanma (Bunma), ruler of Yasothon, and Phraya Chiangsa. The king consequently promoted Thao Suwo to be ruler of a large town to be established on the right bank of the Mekong River. The location of Ban Phai was chosen for the town called Nong Khai, which was named after a large pond that lies just to its west.

Long and narrow Nong Khai province contains the longest stretch of the Mekong River in Thailand (320 kilometers). At its widest point the province is only 50 kilometers wide. Controlled at different times by Laos, the area is suitable for agriculture and fishing. It is also a major tourist destination and the major launching point for journeys into Laos or exploring greater Isan (northeastern Thailand). Nong Khai features temples, traditional culture, a beautiful countryside, and a rural folk lifestyle, the most lively event of which centers on the Bung Fi Phaya Nak, the naga fireballs: an annual event whereby mysterious glowing balls of light rise up out of the river, believed to be sent by the naga king in honor of the lord Buddha. The naga fireball phenomenon occurs most often on Wan Awk Pansa, the full moon night of the 11th month of the lunar year that signifies the end of Buddhist rain retreat, usually in October. Mud Mee, a special style of silk that is popular with the Thai royal family, is produced in Nong Khai.

Tourist Office and Website: 16/5 Mu kilometers ontri Road , Tambon Makkheng, Amphoe Mueang, Udon Thani 41000, tel. 0 4232 5406-7, 0 4232 5408. Accommodation: As a popular tourist destination, Nong Khai has a variety of accommodation options, many of which are alongside the Mekong River and include affordable, and friendly guesthouses. Getting Around in Nong Khai: As in most rural Thai provinces there are typically songtaews that follow established routes around the provincial capital and between towns within the province. Songtaews, motorbike taxis, and a form of tuk tuk, called a “skylab” are usually available for private charter as well. Visitors can also use car rental services operated by many tour companies in town.

Sala Keoku and Its Garish Concrete Sculptures

Sala Keoku (three kilometers from Nong Khai) is vast garden of concrete sculptures made by a Laotian artist and mystic named Boun Leua Sourirat in the late 1970s in honor of his spiritual teacher, a hermit named Keoku. Leua met Keoko after falling into a hole, where Keouku was mediating, while hiking in the mountains. He stayed for several years with the hermit, who told him about Buddha, the underworld and Hindu gods and goddesses also honored by Buddhists.

The dominate sculpture in the park is an eight-story seated Buddha. "Near the tunnel entrance," wrote author Roger Warner in Smithsonian magazine, "stood figure of souls waiting to be born. Conception was the beginning of suffering, the resumption of the cycle. From this point on within the circular courtyard, the theme was laid out explicitly with concrete arrows pointing the direction for the visitor to follow.

"There were statues of a baby, and of a boy and girl walking together in Western clothing, and farther in, of a husband and wife. Along the courtyard wall, between statues of frowning gods, were representations of a military officer, a tattooed soldier with an M-16 rifle (no doubt inspired by the war in Laos), a businesswoman, a king, lovers, skeletons embracing to show that passion isn't lasting, and so forth. It was a panorama of life's possibilities. The end, of course, was the same as the beginning: rebirth.

"My favorite sculpture group at Sala Keoku [was] an elephant striding along with a pack of dogs yipping at its feet. the dogs were shown in a variety of poses—reading books, driving convertibles, playing cards, drinking liquor, and barking, barking, barking. Quite clearly they were meant to be critics. The elephant paid no attention to them and regally continued on its way.”

Location and Contact: Presently, Sala Keoku is under the care of the Nong Khai Buddhist Association. 10/5 Mu 5 Ban Samakki, Nong Khai - Phon Phisai Road, Tambon Hat Kham, Amphoe Mueang, Nong Khai. Hours Open: Open everyday from 7.00am to 5:00pm; Admission: 20 baht Getting There: Sala Keoku is located three kilometers from the town of Nong Khai on the right side of the route to Phon Phisai.

First Friendship Bridge Between Thailand and Laos

The First Friendship (Mittaphan) bridge across the Mekong River connects the Thai city of Nong Khai with the Lao port of Tha Nalaeng. Built mostly with Australia money, it opened in 1994 and is 1,174 meters long and 19 kilometers southeast of Vientiane, the capital and main city in Laos. The bridge has two 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 in) wide road lanes, two 1.5 meters (4 feet 11 in) wide footpaths and a single 1,000 mm gauge railway line in the middle, straddling the narrow central reservation.

Opened on April 8, 1994, it was the first bridge across the lower Mekong, and the second on the full course of the Mekong. The cost was about $30 million, funded by the Australian government as development aid for Laos. The bridge was built by Australian companies as a demonstration of their ability to complete major infrastructural projects in Southeast Asia. The official name of the bridge was changed by the addition of "First" after the Second Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge further south at Savannakhet opened in January 2007. [Source: Wikipedia]

Traffic on the bridge drives on the left, as in Thailand, while traffic in Laos drives on the right. The changeover at the Lao end, just before the border post, is controlled by traffic lights. A shuttle bus service operates across the bridge, between the Lao and Thai border posts. The bridge is part of the AH12 Asian Highway Network. A metre-gauge rail track from Nong Khai station runs along the centre of the bridge. Road traffic is stopped when a train is crossing.

On March 20, 2004, an agreement between the Thai and Lao governments was signed to extend the railway to Thanaleng Railway Station in Laos, about 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the bridge. This will be the first railway link to Laos (but not the first railway, as a short portage line once existed). The Thai government agreed to finance the line through a combination of grant and loan. Construction formally began on January 19, 2007. Test trains began running on July 4, 2008. Formal inauguration occurred on March 5, 2009.

On February 22, 2006, approval of funding for the rail line from Thanaleng Railway Station to Vientiane, about 9 kilometer, was announced by the French Development Agency. In November 2010 plans to extend the service from Thanaleng to Vientiane were abandoned. A posited high-speed rail link from China to Thailand through Laos would make the extension redundant. It would also necessitate the construction of a new bridge near to the current First Friendship Bridge. In 2011, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's revised plan prioritises domestic rail expansion over the ambitious regional connectivity plan spearheaded by China. Since February 2010 the Eastern and Oriental Express crosses the Mekong via the bridge into Laos.

Getting to Nong Khai and Laos

Nong Khai is a major northern hub for travel in northeastern Thailand and neighboring Laos and can be reached via private car, bus, train, or airplane. There are numerous ways of getting across the border to and from Laos, including bus and train. By Car: From Bangkok, drive along Highway No.1(Phahonyothin Road), past Saraburi and switch to Highway No.2 (Mittraphap Road) passing through Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani to Nong Khai, a total distance of 615 kilometers and a 9-10 hour drive.

By Train: The State Railway of Thailand has daily train service from Bangkok to Nong Khai that takes around 10 ½ hours. For further information, contact the travel service unit, Tel. 1690, 0 2220 4334, 0 2220 4444, or visit You can also now travel between Bangkok and Vientiane by train, as a new rail link opened in March 2009 that crosses the Friendship Bridge connecting Nong Khai to a new international rail terminal at Tha Naleng, about 13 kilometers from central Vientiane.

By Bus: The Transport Company Limited has a regular service of ordinary and air-conditioned buses from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2/Chatuchak) to Nong Khai every day. For further information, contact the Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal, Tel. 0 2936 2852-66, or visit the website In addition, there are private bus services that also connect Bangkok to Nong Khai: 407 Phatthana, Tel. 0 2992 3475-8, 0 4241 1261; Chan Tour Limited, Tel. 0 2618 7418, 0 4241 2195; Barami Tour, Tel. 0 2537 8249, 0 4246 0345; and Cherdchai Tour, Tel. 0 2936 0253, 0 4246 1067. From the Nong Khai Bus Terminal, there is a bus service from Nong Khai to Loei, passing through Amphoe Tha Bo, Amphoe Si Chiang Mai and Amphoe Sangkhom in Nong Khai, and Amphoe Chiang Khan in Loei. The route runs along the Mekong River and there are guesthouses available for visitors who wish to stop along the way.

By Air: Although there are no regular commercial flights to Nong Khai, AirAsia, Nok Air, and Thai Airways all have daily service to Udon Thani, a 51 kilometers bus ride away from Nong Khai that takes about one hour. Alternately, one can fly internationally into Vientiane Airport on Laos Airlines or on Thai Airways from Chiang Mai and take a short trip to the border crossing and onto Nong Khai.

Traveling Between Vientiane, Laos and Nong Khai, Thailand:

From Vientiane to Nong Khai, one can take a short bus across the border and the friendship bridge. The bus station to Nong Khai is near the Thai embassy in the east of Vientiane, opposite the Morning market on Mahosot Road. You must show your passport and visitors of many nations may enter Thailand without a visa on a visa waiver. Check with the Thai embassy if you are uncertain if you qualify.

The bus to Nong Khai services the Nong Khai Bus Station. Those who wish to go to the train station should get a tuk tuk immediately after clearing the Thai immigration checkpoint. For buses from Nong Khai to Vientiane, visitors from outside of ASEAN nations can apply for visas at the border. From the Thai Border at Nong Khai it is 22 kilometers to Vientiane. For trips in either direction, the Friendship Bridge closes at 10pm.

Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge is the first international bridge to span the Mekong. The bridge was built jointly by the governments of Australia, Thailand and Laos. It was opened in April 8, 1994. It is open everyday from 6.00am ro 10:00pm. Contact: Soi 1-2 Ban Chommani, Tambon Mi Chai, Amphoe Mueang, Nong Khai.


NAKON PHANOM (242 kilometers from Udon Thani, 296 kilometers from Nong Khai) contains the northeast's most oldest and revered shrine, Phra That Phanom, a towering 50-meter-high, 9th century chedi. Similar to the famous That Luang in Laos, it was built during the reign of King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya over an earlier Khmer prasat. After it collapse during a rainstorm in 1975 it was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1979 by King Bhumibol. Thai and Laotian pilgrims come to this highly venerated Buddhist shrine to make offereings and ask for blessings.

Nakhon Phanom, once the center of the ancient Sri Kotrabun Kingdom, lies along the western bank of the majestic Mekong River. The lovely setting of Nakhon Phanom town is enhanced by the rugged beauty of the jungle covered mountains that lie outside the town of Thakaek on the Laotian side of the river. King Rama I chose the name Nakhon Phanom, meaning “City of Mountains,” because of the remarkable mountains found in the province.Partly a result of its long history, Nakhon Phanom is a melting pot of diverse ethnic cultures and traditions, particularly represented by the Lao, who have lent a strong influence to the architecture, customs, and cuisine of Nakhon Phanom, including the Bai-Sri-Su-Kwan welcoming ceremony. The area around Nakhon Phanom is covered with both high hills and low-lying, forest-covered plains.

Throughout its history of Nakhon Phanom, Laotians and people from smaller ethnic minority groups migrated to the region, giving modern Nakhon Phanom a distinctive cultural fusion that is apparent in the local language, customs, and cuisine. There are also many Vietnamese living here. Visitors can appreciate this culture during the Bai-Sri-Su-Kwan ceremony or by witnessing one of the region’s folk dances, such as the Sri Kotrabun, Fon Phu Thai, Sek-Ten-Sak, and So Tung Bung, some of which are only performed on special occasions.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Nakhon Phanom Office, 184/1 Suntornvijit Road. Tambon Nai Mueang, Amphoe Mueang, Nakhon Phanom 48000, Tel. +66 4251 3490-1, Fax. +66 4251 3492, E-mail Address: Accommodation: Although not a major center for tourism, Nakhon Phanom has a variety of accommodation options ranging from budget guesthouses to midrange and more up-market lodging. Getting Around in Nakhon Phanom : There is no bus service to get around the city. The only chartered vehicles available are ‘Skylabs’, a local form of tuk tuk. The fare ranges from 10-60 baht, depending on the distance. Website: ;

Third Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong is a bridge that connects Nakhon Phanom Province in Thailand with Thakhek, Khammouane in Laos. The bridge's foundation stone was laid on March 6, 2009, and it opened for traffic on November 11, 2011. The bridge is 1423 metres long and 13 metres wide. The name "Third Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge" was previously also used to refer to the planned bridge from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos, but this bridge is now known as the Fourth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Getting to Nakhon Phanom

Nakhon Phanom is off the beaten route and is best reached via private car or public bus. Once there, it may be easier to get around with your own car, as the there is no local bus service and the only chartered vehicles available are ‘Skylabs’, a local form of tuk tuk. By Car: Route 1) From Bangkok, take the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route, then proceed to Ban Phai along Highway No. 2; take Highway No. 23 and Highway No. 213 to Sakhon Nakhon Province via Maha Sarakham and Kalasin Provinces and continue along Highway No. 22 to Nakhon Phanom; the total distance is 740 kilometers. Route 2) From Bangkok take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road) to Saraburi. At the main junction located at the kilometer 107 marker, turn right onto Highway No. 2 (Friendship Highway) and proceed past Nakon Ratchasima Province to Ban Phai (a district of Khon Kaen Province) and turn right onto Highway 23. Follow the route to Maha Sarakham, Kalasin, Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom Provinces; the total distance is 735 kilometers.

By Bus: Buses depart from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal) to Nakhon Phanom Province every day between 6.00am and 8.00pm There are different classes of bus services provided - regular, air-conditioned and VIP with fares ranging from 360 baht to 579 baht. For more information call Transport Co. Ltd. Tel. 0 2936 2852-66. Alternatively, you can visit to find more up-to-date information on schedules and fares. To/From other neighboring provinces: Regular bus services operate between Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom via Sakon Nakhon; air-conditioned bus services are provided hourly from 6am to 11am Udon Thani: Regular bus and air-conditioned bus services make trips to Nakhon Phanom daily. Mukdahan: Bus services between Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan Provinces are provided on an hourly basis from 5.00am to 5.00pm daily Kho Rat: Air-conditioned bus service between Nakhon Phanom and Khorat are provided 3 times a day.

Phra That Phanom (50 kilometers from Nakhon Phanom on Highway No. 212) is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Northeast Thailand. The 53-meters-tall, square-shaped pagoda, it believed to have been built before the 12th century with Khmer design, but over the years it was renovated to its present Laotian design. The pagoda enshrines holy relics of the Lord Buddha. In On August 11, 1975 at 7:00pm, the entire pagoda collapsed after many days of rain. A great effort was made local people to collect donations and rebuild the pagoda to its original splendor. People placed many valuables inside and placed a 110-kilogram solid gold spire on top of the pagoda. Today it is open everyday from 8:00am - 6:00pm. Contact: Amphoe That Phanom, Nakhon Phanom, Tel. 0 4251 3490-1

Second Thai-lao Friendship Bridge

The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge—the 1.6-kilometer-long Second Mekong International bridge over the Mekong River between Savannkhet in Laos and Mukdahan in Thailand — opened in 2006. Built with money from Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) program and the Sumitomo Mitsui construction (a Chinese company), the bridge cost $75 million to make. The bridge was scheduled to be completed sooner but was delayed by the Asian financial crisis. Eight construction workers died in an accident in July 2005. The bridge is the final portion of the East-West economic Corridor.

The second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge has two traffic lanes 12 meters in width and 1,600 meters long. Officially inaugurated by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand and Lao Vice President Bounnhang Vorachith, it is part of the land transport development plan of the East-West economic corridor running through Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Bridge construction began on March 21, 2004 and took three years to complete. The bridge is expected not only to promote overland tourism in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, but also to facilitate trade and investment in the Mekong subregion. As of 2011 more than 5,000 vehicles used the bridge daily, generating taxes and fee revenue to the Thai government of 60,000 baht a day on average.

Kyodo reported: “The Japan Bank for International Cooperation provided 8.09 billion yen (about $80 million) in soft loans to both Thailand and Laos for the shared construction costs. Thailand borrowed 4.079 billion yen, Laos borrowed the other 4.011 billion yen. The bridge is part of the transportation initiative headed by the Asian Development Bank known as the "East-West Economic Corridor." The idea is to create transportation corridor running the entire width of mainland Southeast Asia, approximately 1,500 kilometres long, linking the Andaman Sea from Mawlamyine in eastern Myanmar to the South China Sea. [Source: Kyodo, December 20, 2006 ==]

Phra That Phanom

Phra That Phanom (600 meters west of the Mekong River in Nakorn Phanom Province) is located within the walled compound of the "Temple of Phra That Phanom". It and its related historic buildings and associated landscape were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017 According to a reported submitted to UNESCO: Believed by the people in the region to have been built by Monk Maha Kassapa, a chief disciple of Buddha, to enshrine the Buddha's breastbone relics 8 years after Buddha's Nirvana, this Stupa is regarded as the most ancient Buddha's Relics Stupa in the Northeast of Thailand and in the Middle Mekong River Basin. Throughout the millennia, Phra That Phanom has been steadfastly venerated by the multi-ethnic and multi-national populations living in all directions of the region.[Source: Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention]

Phra That Phanom, as revealed by archaeology, was first constructed as a square brick structure with intricate carvings reminiscent of the Cham or ancient Khmer style sanctuary. This was further built upon, embellished, and restored over multi-generations by different groups of devoted personalities from both sides of the River. In August 1975, the high and top-heavy Stupa, seated on the ancient crumbling brick base, collapsed in the week-long rainstorm. Multi-disciplinary examinations and scientific tests, including soil tests and archaeological excavations, were undertaken which dated the innermost brick chamber at the ground level of the Stupa to about AD 7- 8. Among the debris of bricks, a big bronze casket was miraculously recovered, inside of which was found a multi-layered set of gold cases containing and protecting the sacred Relics. A joyous celebration was held by the government, attended by the Prime Minister of Thailand and crowds of people from all areas, before the Relics were later ceremoniously re-enshrined in the Stupa.

Phra That Phanom represents the noblest and the most conscious form of Buddhist architectural and artistic expressions in the Mekong region, in Thailand, and especially in the Northeast region of the country. The Monument embodies the essence of Buddhism as interpreted and embraced by the people in the region since time immemorial. A creative architectural response to the undying faith and spirituality of the people, Phra That Phanom Stupa exhibits a unique achievement, combining the traditional grammar of sacred representation of the ancient Chams and Khmers, with the traditional elements of Buddhist Relics Stupa architecture and symbolism from India, while also blending in the Mekong regional spirit as well as the local artistic ornamentations.

This achievement is mainly evidenced in: A) the respect for the original natural setting of Phu Kampra, situated at the crossroads of the Mekhong, considered sacred since ancient time; B) the east-west orientation of the Stupa facing the Mekong River in the east with an ancient promenade linking the Stupa to the River; C) the preservation of the square brick base structure and its ancient decorative details including the regional heroic carvings; D) the adherence to the ancient Buddhist architectural tradition and the religious decorum by retaining the key architectural parts and symbolism of the ancient Buddhist Relics Stupas, including the circumambulation space, the dome or the bell or the vase part (even though this part is designed with a new style of interpretation), the throne, the Chattra or the umbrellas, as well as the enclosure walls with decorated gateways at the cardinal directions; E) the high degree of local imaginative interpretations in the restorations and embellishments of the Stupa.

This Stupa has thus become the most distinguished and tangible symbol of the spiritual identity of the region, an inspiration too many other Buddhist Stupas constructed later in Nakorn Phanom as well as in the greater Northeast of Thailand. Phra That Phanom has furthermore inspired the design and creation of many local folk arts and crafts, such as the "ancestor's relics shrine" commonly produced and used by the village folks in this region, and souvenir stupas and motive for individual veneration. It has also been adopted as the major design of the Khon Kaen University's Emblem and in Thai national stamps.

History of Phra That Phanom

According to a reported submitted to UNESCO: The ancient origin of Phra That Phanom is described in the palm leafed Chronicle of "Tamnan Urankathat" which refers to the Buddha's visit to the Mekong region in his lifetime and his prophecy that Buddhism would greatly flourish in this land. Despite its semi-mythical nature, the Chronicle has been acknowledged by modern scholars for its useful and realistic accounts of ancient geography and social and political history of the Mekong Region. [Source: Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention]

The date of its first construction, as documented in the Chronicle to be 8 years after the Buddha's passing, was not supported by the archaeological findings which indicated the earliest structure, excavated only at the ground level, to be about 7-8th Century AD; but this dating was a not relevant issue to the worshippers of Phra That Phanom. What matters most to the peoples in the region is that Phra That Phanom is now standing as a glorious and living sacred monument in its original setting and cultural environment, well protected within the precinct of the Temple and being celebrated regularly in accordance with the age-old traditions. The Stupa has thus continued to serve the function and purpose as a centre of spiritual inspiration for the promotion of harmony and peace among the people in the region. Furthermore, the architectural form and style of Phra That Phanom has become the prototype of numerous other relics’ stupas in the outlining districts of Nakorn Phanom and in the nearby provinces. The image of Phra That Phanom has also inspired many folk arts and contemporary designs.

The tradition of building a stupa to posthumously honour a great personality at a crossroads was a common practice among the ancient Hindus in India, and as such predated the Buddha's time. Following the Buddha's advice, as cited in Mahaparinibbhana Sutta, his disciples represented by Brahmins and kings, as well as Naga race and deities, divided the Great Teacher's relics and ashes among them after the cremation at Kushinara. Each group built a stupa to enshrine the relics at a crossroads so that all people could access and worship. The purpose, as foreseen by the Buddha, was to promote "the feeling of peace and calmness, happiness and wellbeing in the minds of those who see them for a long time to come" (, tipitaka, Mahaparinibhanna Sutta, 27-31, translated from Phra That Phanom Stupa, together with the related religious buildings and its associative ancient natural setting of Phu Kampra near the bank of the Mekong River, exhibit the interchanging of values between the ancient Mekong's ethnic practices of nature and ancestor worship and the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs that spread from India.

The continued use and function of the Phu Kampra location as the sacred area related to Phra That Phanom as well as its sociocultural linkage with the Mekong River and the communities who originally were the designated "servants of Phra That Phanom" also testify to this important interchange.the Pali by Sister Vajira & Francis Story© 1998)

Unfortunately, Buddhism declined in India around the 13th Century A.D, leaving a great number of Stupas as ancient monuments to be later excavated by British officers and archaeologists. The seeds of Buddha's teachings, however, were sown and blossomed wide and far, especially in the Mekong River Basin, as tangibly testified by a wealth of sacred stupas in the area.

Architecture of Phra That Phanom

The interchanging of Mekong's ethnic practices of nature and ancestor worship and the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs — prolonged over a period of more than a millennium, starting from about the 7th or 8th Century AD, and continuing until today — resulted in the evolution and development of a distinct regional style of architecture and arts in connection with "Pra That", or the Relic Stupa, within the middle region of the Mekong Basin. [Source: Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention]

According to a reported submitted to UNESCO: The splendid architecture of the Phra That Phanom and its style of ornamentation distinctly exhibit both the regional traditional spirit of Mekong and the Buddhist values from outside. The architectural design form of Phra That Phanom has in turns exerted extensive influences over the form and style of many contemporary relic s stupas in the Northeast of Thailand, and has become a prototype of some contemporary Pra That or Relics Stupas in this area. Many forms of folk arts and crafts and contemporary sacred designs in Thailand have also been inspired by the image of Phra That Phanom.

The location of Phu Kampra, from geographical, socio-cultural and historical considerations, is certainly conducive to the promotion of the interchanging of ideas and values of diverse groups of people since ancient time. The site of Phu Kampa which is now about 200 m elevated area (Phu meaning a mound or a hill), was once a natural mound where three of the Mekong tributaries used to meet before flowing into the sacred mother river, Mekong. This was where people, especially travellers, merchants and local people from several ancient townships and kingdoms could converge to trade and barter, interact and exchange ideas and beliefs, as mentioned in the Chronology of Urankathat. The location was therefore unsurprisingly the chosen site of an earlier Cham-style Hindu sanctuary and was subsequently transformed into the place of enshrinement of the Buddha's Relics which eventually evolved into a uniquely regional style Stupa of Phra That Phanom.

Phra That Phanom and Buddhism

According to a reported submitted to UNESCO: Criterion (vi): Phra That Phanom is directly identified with Buddhist Literary work of the Maha Parinibbanna Sutta and the ancient but living concept and practices concerning the veneration of the Buddha's Relics Stupa as a representation of the Buddha and his teachings. [Source: Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention]

Phra That Phanom is also firmly associated with many mythical and historical beliefs inspired by the Buddhist literary work of Tamnan Urankathat which is distinct to the Mekong region. One of these includes the credence that the enshrinement of Buddha's breast bonerelics at this location was the expressed wish of the Lord Buddha who visited the place in his lifetime and made many impressions of his footprint on certain areas he visited. The fact that Buddha's will was carried out by Maha Kassapa Monk from India and resulted in the building of the first Stupa by the 5 regional kings significantly symbolizes the importing of the Indian concept and it being embraced by the regional peoples as well as their ownership of the sacred Stupa from the beginning. This credence has led to many subsequent restorations over generations out of faith and dedication of the regional people to the Buddha.

Phra That Phanom, being a living and potent Stupa, is also actively associated with many sacred Buddhist traditions. After the collapse of this Stupa in 1975, for example, due respect was paid to the sacred nature of the Monument and to the people's sense of ownership and their spirituality attached to the Stupa. Ancient sacred ceremonies were held to ask for forgiveness from Buddha, to give spiritual support to the people working in the restoration project and to promote calmness among the throngs of peoples who came to mourn the physical collapse of the Stupa. When the sacred Relics were recovered, protected in layers of cases placed inside a bronze casket, a great celebration was organized for 7 days and 7 nights by the government and the Temple, with the widest participation of the people in the Mekong Region.

Festivals at Phra That Phanom

According to a reported submitted to UNESCO: Phra That Phanom is also part of the worldwide Buddhist community and regularly hosts the universal Buddhist celebrations according to the Lunar calendar. For example, the Makha Puja is annually held for three days and three nights at Phra That Phanom on the full moon of the third lunar month (February or March), to commemorate an important event of the "Four Assembly" occurred early in the teaching life of Buddha. This commemoration, comprising both socio- cultural and religious activities, is attended by a multitude of devotees fluxing into the temple area from all parts of the Mekong River Basin and the world. During this event, many Buddhist activities as well as regional cultural expressions were organized, including meditation and observation of the 8 precepts, and the ethnic dances and music in honour of Phra That Phanom by the villagers and local students. [Source: Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention]

Especially important and unique to the region are the celebrations related to the Buddhist myth and Mekong regional interpretation. For example, an official invocation of "Phra Upakut" is organized every year by the Provincial Authorities. Pra Upakut, a monk in the Buddhist legend, is highly venerated in the Mekong River Basin where he is believed to be a living and practicing meditation under the River. The invocation is therefore to pay respect to him and to invite him to come to the Temple to continue giving his protection to the Phra That Phanom Stupa. The tradition is participated by the leaders of the communities of Nakorn Phanom, represented by the Governor himself.

Another traditional celebration, called the "Sattanaga Memorial", is annually organized by the Temple of Phra That Phanom to make merit for the benefit of the 7 Nagas who faithfully protect the Phra That Phanom, from the time of its first construction. This Sattanaga celebration, held on the 5th moon of the 11th month, before the breaking of the Buddhist Lent, is specifically connected with the belief about the Nagas, a mythical multi-headed serpent mentioned in many Buddhist scripts, and also in "Tamnan Urankathat". Being the world's 12th longest river with its source in the high plateau of the Himalaya, the torrential Mekong River is believed to be the home to the wild and untamed Nagas, who became a believer of Buddha’s teaching upon meeting the latter in this area,. This has given rise to many cultural expressions on the theme of the Nagas, as seen in the rich ornamentations of architecture, as well as in many intangible social cultural expressions of the region.

Floating of the lit-up boats is another important artistic expressions of the people of the Mekong River Basin. It is related to the ancient Hindu practice of offering lights to the river and asking the sacred beings to protect the travellers and the people living in the river basin. In Buddhism, the ceremony is held on the 15th moon of the 11th month, to commemorate the return of Buddha from his journey to heaven to preach to his Mother. On this occasion, all the gates of the three worlds are open so that all beings can listen to his Dharma. The activities for the ceremony on this occasion at Nakorn Phanom include alms giving to the monks in the morning, food feast to the relatives at noon, folk games and sports in the afternoon, chanting of mantra in the evening, and the colourful "Lai Rua Fai", or the lighting of the boats and floats that are creatively built for the occasion, at nightfall.

Restoration of Phra That Phanom

According to a reported submitted to UNESCO: Phra That Phanom was registered in 1935 as an ancient monument by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand for conservation and protection under the Ancient Monuments Act. To further safeguard its site, a boundary of about 4 hectares around the Monument within the front part or the "Buddha was Area" of the Temple of Phra That Phanom, was added to the registration in 1979. [Source: Thailand National Commission on the World Heritage Convention]

The 1975-1979 restoration was conducted under the supervision of the Prime Minister of Thailand, and with the full blessing of His Majesty the King and the Thai Supreme Patriarch. It enjoyed the widest support and cooperation from the people at all levels. By using the original material as much as possible, but having its base strngthened by modern technology and its regional symbolic ornamentation made by arts and crafts experts, the newly restored Phra That Phanom was thus returned to its previous majestic perfection.

The restoration project was not only about the physical reconstruction, but more importantly it was a delicate response to the spiritual and religious needs and sensitivity of the people who had, for many past generations identified, with Phra That Phanom as their sacred property and a representation of the intangible Buddha. The restoration was also a historic undertaking involving the commitment and collaboration of multi-ministerial committees of advisors, experts, and technicians in all related fields, as well as artisans, craftsman and volunteered workers. Funding for the restoration came from the government's budget and from the benevolent donations of individuals and agencies at the national and international levels.


LOEI (near Laos, 520 kilometers north of Bangkok and 140 kilometers west of Udon Thani) is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled places in Thailand. Known for its beautiful flowers and its mountains, it isi also the coldest place in Thailand—one of the few places that has recorded freezing temperatures—and during the hot season one of its hottest too. Much of the 11,424 square kilometer province is 400 meters above sea level. Sharing a Mekong River border with Laos, Loei province is in many ways more similar to the north of Thailand than to the rest of Isan, even earning the nickname “the Mae Hong Son of the northeast.” Agriculture drives Loei’s economy, with villages primarily engaged in crops ranging from macadamia nuts, passion fruit, and Arabica coffee in the highlands to bananas, sesame, and rubber in the plains.

Loei is an up-and-coming ecotourism region surrounded by undulating mountain ranges, abundant with various kinds of flora and capped with fog enshrouded summits. The most majestic mountains are Phu Kradueng, Phu Luang and Phu Ruea. However, while Loei features numerous outdoor activities and fascinating cultural attractions, tourism is relatively new to the province and the area is greatly unspoiled. Loei has unique cultures and traditions in addition to beautiful geographical surroundings, such as the colorful Phi Ta Khon Festival. The town of Loei is not great shakes but it does its job serving as a base to explore the province.

Tourist Office and Website: Tourism Authority of Thailand , Loei Office, District Office (Old building) Charoenrat Road,Tambon Kut Pong Amphoe Mueang,Loei 42000, Tel. +66 4281 2812, Fax. +66 4281 1480, E-mail Address:, Accommodation: As one of the newest areas to develop ecotourism in Thailand, Loei has a wide array of accommodation options, including rural home-stays and charming guesthouses as well as more upscale resorts that are sure to please even the most refined global traveler. Getting Around in Loei: Songtaews depart from the Bus Terminal on Maliwan Road. Traveling from the center of the province to other districts and nearby provinces can be done by buses that depart from the Bus Terminal on Maliwan Road. Website: ;

Getting to Loei: As a province somewhat off the typical tourist route, Loei is best reached via private car or public bus. However, it is possible to take a train or plane to nearby Udon Thani and then a bus to Loei. By Bus: The Transport Co., Ltd. provides daily buses between Bangkok and Loei including both normal buses and air-conditioned coaches. The trip takes approximately 10 hours. For further information, please contact the Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2), Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road, Tel. 0 2936 2841-8, 0 2936 2852-66 or visit

By Car: From Bangkok take Highway No. 1 (Phahonyothin Road), passing through Amphoe Mueang of Saraburi. Turn onto Highway No. 21 past Phetchabun, and then take Highway No. 203 through Amphoe Lom Sak and Lom Kao into Loei province. The trip takes approximately 7 to 8 hours. Otherwise, from Saraburi, take Highway No. 2 (Mittraphap Road) past Nakhon Ratchasima to Khon Kaen and turn left onto Highway No. 12 through Amphoe Chum Phae. Finally take Highway No. 201 into Loei province, a total distance of 540 kilometers.

Phu Kra Dung National Park

Phu Kra Dung National Park (85 kilometers from Loei) is located high up on a plateau and features beautiful forests and waterfalls as well as lovely road with outstanding views of the Mekong River. Phu Kradueng National Park is popular with Thai trekkers. The goal is to hike up to an elevation of 1,325 meters above sea level and reach Phu Kradueng, a wide plain of about 60 square kilometers. There is a cold-climate pine forest and a grass field full of wild flowers and orchids that bloom in different seasons. In addition, there are several lovely waterfalls and an observation point that is provides spectacular views during sunrise and sunset. Animals found in the park include elephant, Asiatic black bears, barking deer, white-handed gibbons, serows and maybe some tigers. The most used trail is six kilometers long and takes two to three hours and bamboo ladders to negotiate the trickiest parts. The park is open during October to May and closed during the rainy season to rejuvenate the flora and fauna. Park attractions include: Pha Nok Aen, a cliff that offers a breathtaking view of the sunrise, Pha Lom Sak, a sandstone ledge jutting into space providing a fine view of the hills and valleys and Pha Yiap Mek, where cottony clouds suggest a misty world of shadow figures.

Location and Contact: Amphoe Phu Kradueng, Loei, Tel. 0 4287 1333 or 0 2561 4292 – 4. Hours Open: The park is open to visitors from 7.00am until 2.00pm daily and is closed for forest regeneration during 1 June – 30 September every year. Accommodation and Food: Facilities include accommodations and stores selling food and drinks. Call the Park at 0 4287 1333 or 0 2561 4292 – 4 (Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants in Bangkok) or click for more information and reservations.

Admission: Adult 400 baht, Child 200 baht. Website: Official Thailand National Park website, Use Google translate /

Getting to Phu Kradueng National Park: By Bus: Tourists can travel by Bangkok - Loei bus. Get off at Pha Nok Khao which is a connecting point between Chum Phae – Phu Kradueng. From this point, there is a mini bus to Phu Kradueng National Park. Otherwise, tourists can take the Bangkok – Chum Phae bus. From the centre of Mueang Loei, take Highway No. 201, the Loei – Phu Kradueng route, 75 kilometers from the province and turn right into Highway No. 2019 for 8 kilometers to the park office.

Phu Ruea National Park

Phu Ruea National Park (60 kilometers west of Amphoe Muang on Highway No. 203) covers an area of 755.25 square kilometers and has a vast pine-covered plain 1,365 meters above sea level at its summit. Due to its high elevation and cool climate visitors are drawn to the Park all year round. However, during the cool season, visitors flock to the Park to experience wintry weather. Attractions in the Park include observation points, waterfalls, rock gardens, and caves. In particular there are Pha Lon Noi, which offers a spectacular sunrise and beautiful scenery, Pha Sub Thong, a very steep cliff, Namtok Huai Phai, a 30 meter-high waterfall, and Phu Ruea Summit, which provides a fine view of Huang and Khong Rivers. In addition, there are several resorts on the slopes of Phu Ruea, as well as Chateau de Loei Winery, a huge vineyard with modern wine-making facilities. Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm

Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary (55 kilometers from Loei) is located on a jungle plateau with a cool climate the whole year has certain areas that are open to the public. A trail leads from Lon Mon past a pine forest, a grass field, a flower field on a rock plateau, and various cliffs, for a total distance of about 6 kilometers. From Pha Lon Tae, visitors can see Phu Ho and Phu Kradueng.

Phu Luang is famous for its orchids. A variety of orchid types and families proliferate in the region. Bulbophyllum Nipondhii blooms at the beginning of winter roughly from October to December. Dendrobium infundibulum, cymbidium insigne subs p. seidenfadenii, bulbophyllum dayanum, paphiopedilum sukhakulii and other rare and charming orchids can be spotted in every season. Rhododendron stimsill and rhododendron lyi can be admired as well.

Phu Luang tableland stays cool all year. Here are diversified forests: tropical rain, hill evergreen, coniferous, shrub, dry dipterocarp, mixed deciduous forests and fields. On its table plain, there is a river and two magnificent mountains,1562-meter-high Phu Yong Phu and 1571-meter-high Phu Kwang. There is reportedly quite a bit of wildlife but there are restrictions on traveling in the area.

Location and Contact: Amphoe Phu Luang, Loei, Tel. 0 4280 1955, 086-2203560, 084-2800955, Website: . Hours Open: Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm. Accommodation: It is required that visitors to Phu Luang must be accompanied by Park Officers. Advance reservations must be made at Phu Luang Tourist Office, Wang Saphung District Office, in order to arrange accommodations, food and a 3 days/ 2 nights tour. The best time for trekking is from October to May. You can download the 'Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary' Brochure at

Getting There: Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Phu Luang district, Loei. From Loei, take the Loei-Phu Ruea route for 36 kilometers to Ban San Tom, and turn left continuing on for 18 kilometers to reach the sanctuary\'s headquarters.

Website: Official Thailand National Park website, Use Google translate /

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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